Textile manufacturer and exporter turns into dairy farmer and processor. Milk supplied in glass bottles, within 12 hours from milking in Chennai
“We were into home textile business for almost 45 years. Due to some reasons we lost the charm of doing this business and diversified completely into dairy farming in 2012. Our Chairman, Mr. Raveendran was very keen to serve the society with nutritionally and biologically superior cow milk which was hardly available in past many years,” shares Mr. Rakesh, Managing Director.
Astra Dairy Farms manages milk production to bottling to distribution all by itself. “None of our department had been outsourced to anyone as we are extremely conscious about the quality of our farm produced milk till it reaches our consumer,” he asserts. Company started the business with the supply of one liter milk and today it has reached more than 2000 homes. The reason being entire milking process is scrutinized scrupulously. There is no human interference in milking as the milking parlour is completely automatic. The milk is supplied in glass bottles to protect the human health and environment from plastic ill-effects. It is delivered from farm-to-table in less than 12 hours from milking. Milk is organic as the fodder fed to the cows is cultivated in-house completely free from chemical based farming inputs.
The farm was set up in December 2012. It is located at Ponthavakkam village, near Gummdipoondi in Thiruvallur District, Tamil Nadu while the registered office is at Chennai. Initially 30 cows were sourced from Bangalore to start the dairy operations. It was mostly jersey and HF cows. “As we expanded our operations, the herd size has grown substantially. We found HF cows were difficult to manage due to weather conditions here therefore we now stick to jersey breeds. These days we procure the calves within Tamil Nadu as it saves resources in the transit,” he affirms.
Fodder fed to the cows at Astra Dairy Farm is the key to its milk purity. “We grow entire fodder in-house. The cow dung and urine is used for making the manure and pesticide respectively that are later utilized in growing fodder. Maize, moringa and alfa alfa are the main crops grown as fodder. These form a balanced diet for the cows and we don‘t need any additional supplements to improve the milk quality and quantity,” asserts Mr. Rakesh. Antibiotics are given subject to the intensity of the infection or disease. “We then take all the necessary precautions as not to use the milk of the cow till the traces of medicine are seen in the milk.” Cows are always allowed to move freely at the farm and never kept under the stressed conditions.
Slowly and gradually brand ‘Astra’ is gaining wide acceptance in the market. Demand of farm produced milk is increasing. “To meet this additional milk requirement we need extra fodder. With the space limitations within the farm, we are now encouraging other farmers in our vicinity to grow fodder for us. We train the farmers to grow fodder as per our farming protocols and maintaining our stringent standards. It is a win-win situation for both as their livelihood improves and we are able to procure the fodder just the way we grow it in our farm,” he elaborates.
Milking is done twice a day, morning and evening. Milking parlors are automatic system that does not needs any human interference. Milk is supplied in the morning between 5.30-7.30 am and 5.30-7.30 pm in evening. “We have a small yet strong distribution system,” claims Mr. Rakesh. Milk is supplied in the half liter glass bottles. It is the attempt to save the environment from plastic abuse and also safeguard the milk quality. “Customers return the bottles at the next delivery. The bottles are washed, dried and sterilized before the subsequent milk refill.” Milk is sold at Rs. 75/liter.
Cows are managed and monitored at the farm using the technology. Every cow is tagged to be checked constantly in respect to health, nutrition and complete history is documented. “Technology improves the efficiency as it less time intensive and gives precise alerts,” he says.
In coming months, Astra Dairy Farm plans to tie-up with other small dairy in the surrounding area to scale up the operation, “However, we shall ensure the health of cow and quality of milk is not compromised in any case because for small profits we cannot risk our brand! All these farms will be monitored through the customized software and apps enabling us to have a close watch on these associate farms from our premises itself. In addition we can also assist the individual farmers immediately in case of some problem,” he explains.
Apart from the raw milk, Astra brand soon will have some more value added products in its kitty starting with pure cow ghee. “Lastly, we want to expand our operations soon to Bangalore based on same model. Nevertheless irrespective of increase in the quantity, the quality will be intact for sure!” he signs off.
Astra Dairy Farms
No. 201, Fountain Plaza, Pantheon Road, Egmore, Chennai-600008
Farm: #12, Pondavakkam Village, Near Madarapakkam, Thiruvallur District, Tamil Nadu